Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

My Comments on My Commenters

When I first began blogging over five years ago, I didn’t have an effective commenting feature on my blog. This was a result of my peculiar way of blogging. Unlike the vast majority of small people, I did not use an automated blogging service (Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, etc.). Rather, I formatted my entire blog “by hand,” using HTML and Dreamweaver. This gave me lots of power to control the look of my blog. But it meant that certain kinds of functions, like comments, were far beyond my abilities. Finally, in April of 2007 I managed to come up with a hybrid blog, a combination of HTML code surrounding a WordPress automated blog. Now I could allow people to make comments, or to comment on the comments of others, in a more standard blog format. The result, not surprisingly, was more comments from my blog readers.
I don’t know if you’ve spent much time reading comments on blogs. If not, I wouldn’t recommend it. For the most part, blog comments are not especially insightful. Often they are inane. Often they are rude and offensive.  If you want to check out some salient examples, visit the marvelous Newsweek website called On Faith. This “blog” features contributions by some of the most outstanding religious (and irreligious) leaders in the world, including: Chuck Colson, Sam Harris, Elaine Pagels, Desmond Tutu, Rick Warren, Elie Wiesel, and N.T. Wright. Many of the comments added by readers are appropriate and helpful. But I’ve been amazed by the rather large number of mean, disrespectful, and outright nasty comments. In particular, I remember one post by Desmond Tutu, a bishop, Nobel prize winner, and, arguably, one of the most respected leaders in the world. I can’t remember the topic of Bishop Tutu’s post. But I do remember several of the comments that spoke to him like he was a complete idiot. They ridiculed his faith and mocked his ideas. Admittedly, most blog comments are this bad. But the overall level of blog comments doesn’t exactly build my confidence in the intellectual and moral fiber of the blogosophere.
But then there are the comments on my blog. Please pardon me if I take a moment to brag about my commenters. I am truly proud of their intellect, curiousity, and kindness. There have only been a couple of times when I’ve had to edit comments because of their inappropriate language. I do not, by the way, edit or delete comments that are critical of me or my ideas. I should mention, however, that every comment on my blog goes through an outstanding screening program (Akismet) that keeps spam out.  I’ve had over 2,000 legitimate comments on my blog in the last year and a half. I have had over 13,000 spam comments that have been caught by Akismet. Most of these are promoting something: porn, pharmaceuticals, etc. Akismet (associated with WordPress) allows me to have my comments unmoderated. Every once in a while, however, a legitimate comment is held for my moderation.
There are times when I don’t get many comments. And there are times when I get dozens. I am not always able to comment on the comments, but I do try to read them all. Of course I’m encouraged by those who agree with me or express their appreciation for my blogging efforts. I’m often sharpened in my thinking by those who disagree, or by those who ask tough questions. More than once, questions by my commenters have determined the future course of my blog.
If you read my blog comments with any regularity, you’ll get to know some of the personalities. There are some who are consistently positive. I’m thankful for their support. There are others who disagree with me quite often. I’m thankful for their honesty and the respect with which they communicate. I hope I respond with similar graciousness.
I’m proud of my blog commenters. They are doing something that is increasingly rare in our country: dealing openly, respectfully, and graciously with serious issues, even in the midst of significant disagreement. So, for those of you who comment, thank you, both for adding your thoughts, and for doing so in such a helpful way.

  • Scott

    Good post. Keep up the good work.

  • Bill Goff

    No comment.

  • Jennie

    Aw shucks, we love you too.

  • Viola Larson

    Thank you,
    this was more helpful than you can imagine. And I always enjoy reading your blog.

  • Barb Murphy

    I read your blog every day–I also read the comments. I think you attract thoughtful comments because your blogs are so thoughtful and discerning–not rants that illicit other rants. Yours is the only blog that I recommend to others. Please keep doing what you are doing.

  • Mariam

    I find one thing hard to believe—that anything coming from Newsweek could be worthwhile on the question of faith. Their supposedly-faith based argument for gay marriage some weeks ago was about the worst thing I’d seen, based solely on neutral principals of accuracy, fairness, competence, and open inquiry. More reprehensible is that the magazine’s editor, Jon Meacham, supported this genuinely flawed presentation with just the sort of name-calling meanness that we find employed elsewhere on this topic, saying, literally, that anyone who found fault must be a fundamentalist reactionary. His invitation for opposing comments was laced with disdain. No, Mark, I think you must have lost it on this one, by suggesting that it is largely blog commenters who lower the level of discourse.

  • Mariam

    Principles, not principals. Sorry.

  • Mark Roberts

    Mariam: I’m not talking about whether the writers for On Faith are right or wrong. Quite a few would, in fact, agree with you on this issue. I also found that Newsweek article to be quite poor, not to mention wrong. But even when the writers for On Faith are saying things with which I strongly disagree, at least they’re dealing with ideas (mostly), rather than showing disrespect to people. The discourse lowering, in this case, does come from the commenters, sometimes even when they are speaking the truth, though not in love.

  • Ray

    I appreciate the thoughtful sharing of ideas that takes place here. I never have to scroll through pages of garbage to get to a worthwhile comment. The fact that people bring a number of different perspectives to this blog makes it even better. Good, positive, thought-provoking disagreement is helpful to everyone. This blog is truly an oasis of sanity in an overwhelmingly insane online world. Thanks to everyone who participates, and especially to Mark for putting so much work into this venture.

  • RevK

    I frequent this blog very often and one thing that I have learned from Mark is respect, gentleness, and consistency — all attributes foreign to my own constitution. There have been far too many times that I have wanted to spray sarcasm about on so many topics and comments (I’m sure some has leaked out); but trying to emulate the good Dr. here has been my goal, and a worthy one at that! Thanks Mark! (And stay away from my comments at other blogs!! :)

  • Mark D. Roberts: ‘Blog comments are not especially insightful’ | The Daily Scroll

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Daily Scroll: I didn’t mean to imply that only my comments are good. Scot McKnight gets great comments. So does Ben Witherington.

  • Bill

    Thanks for your comments, Mark. It is always interesting to hear other people’s perspectives on blog comments. I would agree that the comments here seem defintely a cut above (as do the ones at Scot McKnight’s blog). I have tried a lot in the last couple of years to read the comments on various blogs where people are likely to disagree with my perspectives. Unfortunately, I have found that you are right. Many comments seem nasty and mean spirited and few deal with ideas. As a result, I frequently come away with no real benefit from the exercise. In general, I have decided to simply avoid blogs likes that and to hope that those bloggers are not representative of people in general. This blog has been very helpful in terms of apologetics etc. Thank you.

  • Thomas Buck

    Dear Rev. Roberts:
    Re: #12
    I doubt that anyone here took the verbiage in your actual post to mean it the way it turned out in that robo-clip in #11 above.
    It seems that your readers post a higher than normal percentage of useful, non-malicious responses as compared to many other blogs. That is, I’m sure, true.

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